Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Why are some people more easily distracted than others? © Getty Images

Why are some people more easily distracted than others?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Pay attention and get your head out of the clouds, some people struggle to concentrate more than others.

Asked by: Callum Milne, Gloucester


Differences in attention span are a result of genes and environmental experiences. These influences can impact upon brain development and functioning, making it more difficult for one person to pay attention than another.

A distinction can also be made between ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ attention. The former involves us becoming distracted by a salient feature in our environment, such as a bright light. The latter is when we focus on something based on our internal goals – we may give a boring document our full attention because we want to pass an exam. These types of attention share some underlying mechanisms, with the frontoparietal network of the brain important for both, for example.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


Alice is a Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths. She has contributed to several diverse research areas, including the longitudinal associations between sleep and psychopathology, behavioural genetics, sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome. In addition to her scientific contributions she also excels in the public engagement of science. She has published two popular science book (Nodding Off, Bloomsbury, 2018 and Sleepy Pebble, Nobrow, 2019). She regularly contributes articles to the media and has had her work published in outlets including the Guardian, GQ UK, Sud Ouest, Slate Fr, Independent.


Sponsored content